I work with you. I watch you. I read what you say and I see what you do. I’ve seen how you are reacting and what you are teaching following the attempted coup of 2021. I have some notes for you ….
I need you to stop waiting to be ready. You are not ready. You will never be ready. But you need to act to interrupt Whiteness’s hold on education. I am using Whiteness in the spirit Dr. Debbie Reese used it in her 2019 Arbuthnot lecture as a stand-in for an oppressive and normed expectation that White, male, straight, cis, able, Christian, English speaking, and middle class are that which everything else is measured against (https://pbswisconsin.org/wpt-education-livestream/).
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You will screw up. You will do damage. You will be criticized.Welcome to the world, now get on with it.
You will NOT be perfect. You will NOT receive cookies or badges or rewards of any kind for being brave. And, you need to act anyway.
Using “I” statements won’t divorce you from your community, history, and culpability. The world we are living in is your world. It was created for you. This is America, it is your America and avoiding this reality does not help anyone or anything except you. Your need to avoid “conflict” is actually a way to avoid change. Your need to avoid the discomfort of the history of racism and other forms of oppression, as well as current events is an issue for you to deal with.
Your avoidance is protecting you from your own discomfort. Avoiding conversations with your students is a selfish, self-indulgent act.
Read that again.
You are the adult in the room and your students are looking and listening to you for clues on how to move forward. They know if you are open to discussions, they hear your hesitancy and the hopeful avoidance in your questions. It is your responsibility to be an adult and take control of your learning. The fact that you have not been listening, reading, watching, hearing anyone besides White, male, Christian, able, straight, English speaking people for your entire adult life is no one else’s fault. Take responsibility for your own action and inactions.
Did you read that copy of White Fragility you absolutely had to have?
Did you read that copy of How to be an Antiracist you absolutely had to have?
Did you read that copy of So You Want to Talk About Race you absolutely had to have?
If you read those books or any of the others that were trending over the summer, did you work to understand them? If you read White Rage that would have helped you understand what you saw this week. Are you ready to apply this fragile knowledge in your classrooms?
That is a YOU problem and you need to fix it because Whiteness loves to protect itself with perfection.
CENTER BIPOC KNOWLEDGE
If you had been listening to BIPOC folks and believing us, you would find the attempted coup COMPLETELY believable. Because we have been telling you for literally centuries that Whiteness is a dangerous and violent colonizing force. Whiteness keeps showing up cloaked in blood and you keep being surprised.
You should NOT be surprised by the fact that your Trump supporting friend, relative, colleague, neighbor is a racist, homophobic, anti-mask, COVID denying asshat. Your surprise is a way of denying, of turning away from, and protecting you. Being surprised is about you and your actions. It isn’t about the world, because the world isn’t really all that surprising most of the time. Again, White supremacists have LITERALLY been telling us what and when they were going to attempt a coup.
You might not like it, but stop saying you are surprised. You need to be asking yourself why you keep thinking that the Trump supporting racist, homophobic, anti-mask, COVID denying asshat is STILL a “good person”. When is the line of goodness breached?
And, a word on Stacey Abrams … White America loves a lone wolf hero, a single savior but that isn’t how social justice movements work. We spend the time to build coalitions and partnerships. We work like hell all the time. We provide back-up for each other and lift each other up, call each other out, and learn from each other. Read Ishena Robinson’s excellent piece from The ROOT – Stacey Abrams Is Not Your Superhero, Mule or God.
WHAT NOT TO DO
Stop “protecting the children”. You aren’t. You are perpetuating Whiteness and you are protecting Whiteness. You are protecting your place in oppressive systems and your own comfort.
Stop being “exhausted”. All you all White people need to buck the fuck up and figure out what you are going to DO about this mess. And then DO something. Whiteness always wants to protect itself but does not give a holy hot kitten about the oppressive violence it causes.
Stop denying. If you find yourself saying “this is not America” or “this is not who we are” just shut up.
Stop “all lives mattering” or “what about riots in black and brown neighborhoods” bullshit. I’m not even going to explain this to you.
Stop asking BIPOC people in your life to be patient and help you without putting in some damn work.
WHAT TO DO
Take a deep breath and say “this is my America. How can we change it?”
Take charge of your own learning. Look up definitions! Start with “False equivalency” and “gaslighting”.
Look for resources produced and authored by BIPOC women. I am not going to give you a link. Do some damn work.
Consume BIPOC media, especially books, movies, podcasts produced and authored by BIPOC women.
Recommend BIPOC media, especially the material produced and authored by BIPOC women to your White peers and colleagues.
Believe BIPOC women.
I haven’t slept well or much in the last few months. I’m not ok. Not even close to it. This country isn’t ok either. This country hasn’t been ok for a large swath of people since the beginning. This country was build on stolen land, using stolen people, by White men and women who knew exactly what they were doing. These Europeans set this country in motion and here we are riding that same wave.
For those who are White, or male, or straight, or cis, or Christian, or middle class, or able, or who are holding tight to those adjacent spaces, folks need to be ready for change. It is going to be scary, because reality and history is going to be challenged. The status quo is built to exclude far too many to stay intact.
I’m writing to the folks who have been awakened in the past 4 years, 2 years, or 6 months. Whatever happens when the ballot boxes are opened and our reality is revealed the oppressive practices will not change. This presidency didn’t invent oppression and the end of this presidency won’t end it either.
This presidency didn’t create Amy Cooper, Jennifer Schulte, Carolyn Bryant. Our support of Whiteness and these women’s faith in that protection created a space for them to weaponize their tears, until it didn’t. Our unerring support of Whiteness must be recognized, challenged and changed.
This presidency didn’t create Henry Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, R Kelly, or Brock Turner. Our support of patriarchal ideals protect these men, until it doesn’t and then we are shocked – SHOCKED – about how long their behavior went on. Our unerring support of toxic masculinity must be recognized, challenged and changed.
Because we are marinating in this oppressive, warped view of normal, it means we all need to push and struggle against the assumed norm. That’s it. That is the The Work.
So, when I took a look at Blackall’s book, that is what I was looking for – affirmation of the assumed norm is good and everything else is bad or suspect or less. That is how I read everything! And, in this case, I look carefully at the images and what messages the images convey about marginalized people and communities.
I am going to take you through one image from Blackall’s book. This is from the middle … a double page spread of families at a park. At first glance it seems that lots of folks are represented.
But let’s look at the WAY they are represented …. and for this you have to dog into the parts of our cultural views of marginalized communities that we don’t want to admit to in polite society – but these are the messages that go unrecognized, and therefore, unchallenged.
In the upper left corner there is an African American woman … she is pregnant and has 4 kids around here. Now, remember the page is about families, and in the US, that most often means a nuclear family.
What do you notice? She is Black, has lots of kids, she’s pregnant, and no partner is anywhere in sight.
What is the common and racist stereotype about Black women in America?
Let’s look at this woman in a head covering and her daughter. Again, no partner. But, she’s not Black. I read her as some random Muslim of no particular region, race, or ethnicity. But, the anti-Islamic stereotype in American is that all Islamic men are terrorists and at war. So, where is her partner?
And, please note there is one other large family at the lower right corner. Probably Jewish orthodox of some sort. The girls are quietly drawing while the boys are actively playing.
I’m tired. I don’t want to address the reification of so many visual stereotypes on one page.
And before you at me – yeah. There are a couple of gay men with kids (again a 2 parent household). There is an intergenerational family, and a childless couple. My issue is with the unchallenged stereotypes that Black women have big families without stable male partners. My issue is with the missing Muslim dad. My issue is with the Jewish orthodox boys that are physically active and sedate girls.
So, here I am, 10:30pm on a Sunday night, in what is probably the worst year in history of years, reading a picture book that reminds me of the “multicultural melting pot” books of the 80s. It reminds me that unchallenged stereotypes set expectations for young readers. It reminds me that I’m tired and I want publishing to get better at seeing this crap before they send a book to press. I’m tired of reviewers ignoring or not seeing these oppressive tropes.
I know 2020 is lasting way longer than seems humanly possible. It is somehow august when it should clearly be 2025 with flying cars, genetically modified cats that bark, and small batch sour dough on tap. But, no. We are still in 2020 with all the things that are going horrendously wrong every single day.
Jerry Craft won all the things for his graphic novel New Kid (https://jerrycraft.com/), including the 2020 Newbery Award. This is the first graphic novel to be awarded a Newbery, so now it the book can proudly wear a bright gold sticker declaring the book’s awesomeness. (I have mixed feelings about book awards so don’t expect me to figure the myriad of internal conflicts anytime soon.)
The book opens in a 2-page spread, with a boy free-falling through space, as he is being drawn into existence by an unseen hand. There is a set of text boxes that instantly break the 4th wall as the narrator, a 12 year old light skinned Black boy, who directly addresses the reader. We are told that he’s a comic book fan, he’s well educated, and he’s scared. There is a sketchbook with “Chapter 1 THE WAR OF ART”, as well as a few sketches falling off the page. Craft provides an opening that acts as a visual overture with everything laid out for the careful reader. I have to admit, I missed 90% of it all and had to return over and over to pick things out. It became a “Where’s Waldo” for both characters and events.
I can’t say enough positive things about this book. The story is a simple one – Black kid leaves his local school for a predominantly White, hugely privileged and pretty damn racist private school. He has to find his way, find his people, and learn how to navigate the physical space, the kids, and the teachers. The one thing he is never in doubt about is his own identity. I read New Kid a few months ago and loved it. Craft hits a balance between showing us a Black 12 year old and his world, and providing a greater commentary on race, class, expectations, exceptionalism and the ways we see and don’t see ourselves and each other.
Craft provides enough visual details that lend a real world feel to the school. The halls and classrooms are populated with different kids – some identifiable and some that blend into the background. The representation of girls is a bit sparse until the end of the book but his take on the classic White woman liberal teacher is brilliant.
One thing I notices is that characters all LOOK different. This sometimes seems like such an obvious thing and small matter to a graphic novel. I mean, why would’t people look different? But, this is an aspect of #OwnVoice visual imagery that we do not pay enough attention to and this is an aspect that Craft comes back to over and over again. Black people of all shades, shapes, hair styles are abundant in the pages. But, perhaps it should bot be surprising, but there are also a number of Asian, Latinx and White people that are easily discernible across the book.
This is a group of kids I wanted to spend more time with, to see how the connected and disconnected with each other. Also, there are some of the best liberal White teacher rhetoric I have ever seen in a book – truly cringe inducing.
Go get this book.
Or read the next review and get both!
Full disclosure. I have met Laurie Halse Anderson a handful of times in professional settings and we follow each other on Twitter. I have never shared a meal, so she is not a friend, but I also would’t ignore her if I saw her at an airport. So, a professional acquaintance.
I waited a long time to read WONDER WOMAN: Tempest Tossed by Laurie Halse Anderson and Leila Del Duca. The only reason is that I am not a big Wonder Woman comics fan. Let me be clear – as a preteen and teen lesbian I had a HUGE thing for Linda Carter as WW but really, I think that was more about the boobs and the spinning. But, that’s the thing. Wonder Woman is the creation of a White, cis, straight man, and so she took form as an idealized woman in that context. In all her iterations she is reacting and reflecting that White, male, cis, straight gaze, and that simply doesn’t interest me. I know a lot of comics scholars write about what Wonder Woman meant to feminists but she was never my thing.
What was intriguing to me was that the illustrator – perhaps for the first time – was a woman. I wondered how that would affect how her body was shown … was it going to be all ridiculous Hawkeye Initiative pose – “How to fix every Strong Female Character pose in superhero comics: replace the character with Hawkeye doing the same thing.” or was it going to show a variation of women who were not all the male “ideal”?
The story is an origin story of how Diana ends up in America, but this time it’s a bit more complicated and involves a daring rescue at sea, Syrian refugees getting to Greece, and Diana not being able to get back to magical island of Thermas-culotta (or whatever the island that I will always think of as Lesbos but I know it isn’t), a refugees camp, and Steve Chang and his husband (I’m sorry what?) Trevor helping Diana get to America.
And that’s not even the BEST part of the book. I love what Del Duca has done with Diana. Laurie Halse Anderson wrote her like she’s 16 year old trying to figure out what that means on an island of women who were never children or teens! Del Duca handles Diana’s full range of emotions crashing together all at once deftly. The book deals with some important topics with a gentle hand. Diana ends up getting noticed because she is a polyglot; she can speak ALL the languages because … ok no reason is given, it is simply part of her. That’s how she ends up getting taken out of the refugee camp and to New York. But, the decision isn’t an easy one for Diana to make. She is fully aware that her status is changing because of her innate ability with language. In other words, she recognizes her privilege as nothing more than happenstance and nothing about it makes her better than the other refugees. She makes a vow to herself to use this opportunity to find a way to do good in the world.
Once in America, she has a lot on her mind. The fact that she is forever separated from her family and culture, her own identity – after all, she is 16 – as well as homelessness, and food insecurity in New York. Through it all she tries to help. It doesn’t always work, but that doesn’t make her stop trying. She ends up learning a lot about herself by hanging around other teens. She is humble and confused, and makes loads of mistakes but she keeps trying. One trait I loved was that she listened to the kids who we usually ignore and by listening, and believing them she is able to put an end to an ongoing sex trafficking ring and the local government corruption that allows it to happen.
Like I said, there is a lot, but it is done well, and in age appropriate ways. Del Duca and Halse Anderson give us a wide range of races, cultures, classes, genders, and sexual orientations that actually make sense in modern New York. This is a solid middle grade and YA graphic novel.
Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LaZotte is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Period.
Not “best book by a Deaf author about Deaf culture”. But, it is that.Not “best elementary or middle grade historical fiction I have read about Deaf culture by a Deaf author”. Although, it it that too.Not “best book with a boring cover that Scholastic really should have invested a lot more in the design because it freakin’ deserves it”. Again, this is also true.
But no. Show Me a Sign grabbed me by the face and sucked me in like a waterspout and didn’t let go until well after the last page.
Now, look. I am the WORST book selector for my own reading. I’m that kid who is all “I don’t know… whatever …. yeah … fine” and then WHAMMO – you can’t talk to me and when you do all I want to talk about is THIS BOOK. I am a literary omnivore. I read almost anything without regard to genre – although I’m not a big fan of historical fiction because it reminds me of news, which is stuff that happened that I can’t do anything about so WHY ARE WE EVEN TALKING ABOUT IT!?!!? I am also not a big “blah-blah-blah characters discovering themselves” and talking endlessly about how they feel all the feels all the time … a lot of YA can be hard on me. But, in general, I will read just about anything.
So, I had this book for a while. I was underwhelmed by the cover – it is very monochromatic. I didn’t know what it was about, again, because I am a terrible book selector. Also, I didn’t read the jacket, any reviews, or the blurb. Hell, I thought it was an incredible show of maturity that I even read the prologue! But, I am incredibly glad I did.
“If you are reading this, I suppose you want to know more about the terrible events of last year – which I almost didn’t survive – and the community where I live.” (p.1)
Wow, well, now that you mention it … I did want to know about all the things and the community, even though just minutes before I had no idea I needed to know what had happened. And, damn, how did she survive? And, hang on, was she a she? (I flipped to the cover… probably? Maybe? Who cares!) and away we go!
For the record? That should be counted among the best first lines EVER. Bar none.
The book is narrated by a young girl, Mary, and is set in 1805 in a small Deaf community on Martha’s Vineyard. Her harrowing tale is chock full of evil and tragedy and humor and love and some of the most interesting people I’ve come across in a while. I am sure if you want there is all sorts of historical blah-blah-blah about the island – I don’t care, get to the evil bits!
The characters are incredibly fresh and real, even the minor ones that only appear on the edges are fully fleshed out with lives and stories I’m interested in. No one is all good. No one all bad — ok, well except this one dude. He is THE worst and reminds me of Tucker Carlson. You know the type …. screamy and creepy? Most of the characters are people, trying to get by in a very hard reality of the 1800s. LeZotte doesn’t ignore the fact that the town is on stolen land and she places Wampanoag folks front and center. But the books isn’t focused on them, it is Mary’s tale.
The thing I love is that Mary’s and the rest of the community’s Deaf identity is not THE thing. It is ONE thing but it is not all defining and consuming. Instead, being Deaf is part of an identity that each person enacts in different ways, just as we all enact our varied and common identities in a variety of ways. The evil that is front and center in this book is audism, which is discrimination, prejudice and oppression based on the belief that a hearing person is, by their very nature, superior in all ways to a Deaf person.
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Basically, just freaking read it. Also, please understand, I have never wanted a harpoon to magically and stupidly appear in any book as I did in this one. That is yet another reason why I am not a writer. Go and buy this book or request it for curb-side pick-up.